On April 23, 2017, representatives from Greenaction, an environmental justice organization, came and spoke to the students of the Urban School of San Francisco students during an All-School Meeting. Brian Butler, Greenaction Community Organizer & Policy Advocate, along with Lisseth Ramos and Caitlin Rand, two Greenaction health interns, spoke to the student body about the environmental concerns of the San Francisco Bay Area and tested our knowledge about the Bayview-Hunter’s Point neighborhood.
Greenaction was founded in 1997 in Arizona and now does work in California, Florida, Louisiana, Utah and Wisconsin as well as continued work in Arizona. The organization also addresses issues affecting native land. According to Greenaction’s website, the organization “works with low-income and working class urban, rural, and indigenous communities to fight environmental racism and build a clean, healthy and just future for all.”
Greenaction’s California work involves West Oakland and the Bayview Hunter’s Point Area in San Francisco. The Bay Area has faced increased prices in rent in the past ten years, driving locals to certain areas of the city where the rent is lower.
According to Rent Jungle, the average rent of a one-bedroom home in San Francisco has increased from $2,176 in 2011 to $3,363 in April of 2017, an increase of 64.7 percent. As prices of rent in San Francisco neighborhoods continue to rise, developers aim to increase the amount of affordable housing for long-time San Francisco residents.
The San Francisco Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure (SFOCII) issued a goal in 2003 to redevelop the Hunter’s Point Shipyard, “which will ultimately include up to 1,600 homes, 27 percent to 40 percent of which will be affordable, and 26 acres of open space,” according to the SFOCII website.
In an interview with the Urban Legend, Brian Butler of Greenaction said, “I’m looking at Bayview-Hunter’s Point with the India Basin and shipyard and even here in Northern California which is supposed to be most progressive and environ friendly, we’re having to watchdog the process, we’re having to challenge the developer, challenge the California EPA, challenge the Navy to assure that the residents of the Bayviews aren’t being overlooked, that their health and their prosperity and quality of life aren’t being sacrificed.”
Bayview-Hunter’s Point is an eastern neighborhood in San Francisco. According to Vice, the Navy used the Bayview shipyard in the 1960’s to decommission radioactive ships. Additionally, Vice reported on the Bayview Hunter’s Point “PG&E power plant that from 1929 to 2006 pumped out 550 tons of harmful particles each year.”
Greenaction, partnered with Hunters View Mother’s Committee, closed the Hunter’s Point PG&E power plant in 2006. According to the Greenaction website, it was confirmed that “the soil and groundwater are (still) contaminated with many hazardous substances, including a large amount of PCBs, PAHS, THP diesel, arsenic, lead, hexavalent chromium, nickel, cobalt, zinc and asbestos.”
According to SFGate, “between 1988 and 1992, 60 black women in Bayview-Hunters Point were found to have breast cancer — and 41 percent of them were under age 50. In the rest of San Francisco, only 22 percent would be expected to fall in that age group.”
“With all development and big money projects, there’s a challenge making sure that human health is not being sacrificed for profit or making money. That’s a challenge that California isn’t immune to and while it may look different in California, it’s something that we fight day in and day out on,” said Butler.
Contamination in Bayview-Hunter’s Point area is something that has been overlooked for generations, but especially more recently as real estate companies have seized the area for increased development, the issues still must be addressed.
According to the official website of the United States government, the Environmental Projection Agency “…protects people and the environment from significant health risks, sponsors and conducts research, and develops and enforces environmental regulations.”
In a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency, Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Malia Cohen said “the environmental cleanup of the property is a critical first step in the process of developing Hunters Point Shipyard—a project that will deliver desperately needed housing and long-overdue public benefits to the Hunters Point community,” requesting a briefing from the EPA for continued investigation of Hunter’s Point.
Development of this area will not continue until the neighborhood has been deemed safe and nontoxic. Greenaction is working with the city to ensure that this becomes a reality.